How Much History Makes (or Breaks) a Historical?

From Susan/Miranda:

Earlier this week, Jo announced the launch of a new Yahoogroups list whose admirable purpose is to bring attention to a wide range of historical romances, books that readers might enjoy but otherwise overlook. The list is aptly named HistoricalDelights. For the writers and readers on this list, history IS a delight.

But some of the comments that followed this announcement made me wonder exactly how much history is necessary these days to qualify a book as “historical.” Some readers defined the differences between “lite” and “traditional” historicals, making their choice based on their mood. Some want as complete a time-travel experience as possible, and labled the more frothy books as “wall-bangers.” For other readers, the emphasis is always on entertainment first, and hang the anachronisms.

This dilemna is, of course, not a new one. Any writer who sets a book in a time period other than her or his own faces the same challenge. A large part of history has always been remembering what’s been forgotten, and a historical writer must decide exactly how much of the past to incorporate without overwhelming the love story. Even the most assiduous academic historian can’t entirely put aside the perspective of his own time, and recreate the past without coloring it through the present.

When historical romance made its splashy appearance in publishing in the late 1970s, historical accuracy was not what most readers sought. (Steve! Ginny!) In those sprawling sagas, heros and heroines always wore silk (how else would you identify them as the hero and heroine?). All pirates had huge, four-poster beds aboard their ships, and every highwayman could jump on and off his stallion (!!) with gymnastic ease, then ride the same snorting beast for days at a time without rest, food, or water.

Yet as readers grew more discerning and competition among writers increased, the historial research became more accurate, too. There was more concern for recreating long-ago speech, dress, and manners (though the majority of historical romance heroines mysteriously continue to avoid having periods, the lucky creatures.) Some writers even included footnotes and bibliographies at the end of their historical romances The writers on this blog all work hard to “get it right”, as you can tell by the eagerness with which we swap titles of out-of-print books and exotic web-sites.

But the glory-days of 500 page historical romances are gone. Most historicals today hover around 100,000 words and often less. Publishers say that readers want faster reads, more love scenes, less history, and besides, paper costs too much. Regencies, one of the bastions of historically detailed romantic fiction, are nearly extinct. The current hot trend is for titles taken from current top-forty songs, and dialogue that sounds more appropriate to “The OC” than Almacks.

So now I’ll ask you, readers and fellow writers: how much history is too little, too much, or just right? Do you notice historical errors, or does history make you feel like you’re back in grade school history class, and chick lit in costume more to your taste? Are you one of those heading off in dismay to Phillipa Gregory and your library of old favorites, or do you think 21st century puns have their place on 18th century lips?

66 thoughts on “How Much History Makes (or Breaks) a Historical?”

  1. I like a good bit of history in the books I read. I like to learn things about history while I’m reading a great love story so YES I want the history to be as close to the truth as the writer can get without making the story to dull. I do enjoy a steamy love scene but I want a great story in there.If theres not a great story and the writer is just going from love scene to love scene its like going in to yahoo chat room. I also like it when the writer at the end of the books explaines the history and tells if they changed history a bit to suit the story.If my history book in school would have been this good I would have gotten A’s.

    Reply
  2. I like a good bit of history in the books I read. I like to learn things about history while I’m reading a great love story so YES I want the history to be as close to the truth as the writer can get without making the story to dull. I do enjoy a steamy love scene but I want a great story in there.If theres not a great story and the writer is just going from love scene to love scene its like going in to yahoo chat room. I also like it when the writer at the end of the books explaines the history and tells if they changed history a bit to suit the story.If my history book in school would have been this good I would have gotten A’s.

    Reply
  3. I like a good bit of history in the books I read. I like to learn things about history while I’m reading a great love story so YES I want the history to be as close to the truth as the writer can get without making the story to dull. I do enjoy a steamy love scene but I want a great story in there.If theres not a great story and the writer is just going from love scene to love scene its like going in to yahoo chat room. I also like it when the writer at the end of the books explaines the history and tells if they changed history a bit to suit the story.If my history book in school would have been this good I would have gotten A’s.

    Reply
  4. I’m something of a purist. I don’t care for the so-called “wallpaper” historicals, and anachronisms ruin a book for me. Being a costume historian as well, the range of things that can make a book a wall-banger for me is quite large (probably overly large, LOL!). I think this is one of the reasons that I avoid most Medievals. I see a lot more glaring errors there than I do in the Georgian/Regency and Victorian set books.

    Reply
  5. I’m something of a purist. I don’t care for the so-called “wallpaper” historicals, and anachronisms ruin a book for me. Being a costume historian as well, the range of things that can make a book a wall-banger for me is quite large (probably overly large, LOL!). I think this is one of the reasons that I avoid most Medievals. I see a lot more glaring errors there than I do in the Georgian/Regency and Victorian set books.

    Reply
  6. I’m something of a purist. I don’t care for the so-called “wallpaper” historicals, and anachronisms ruin a book for me. Being a costume historian as well, the range of things that can make a book a wall-banger for me is quite large (probably overly large, LOL!). I think this is one of the reasons that I avoid most Medievals. I see a lot more glaring errors there than I do in the Georgian/Regency and Victorian set books.

    Reply
  7. I agree very strongly with the comments above.
    If an author cannot be bothered to get the details of an historical setting right, she should not be using such a setting: she should be telling her story within a contemporary setting, or a completely fantasy one. The past is NOT FANTASY; it really happened. History matters, and misleading the reader is unacceptable.
    There are writers, such as the great Heyer, who wore their learning lightly, and that’s fine, but what I really like is a good historical novel with some references at the end that will enable the reader, should she so wish, to follow the author’s research path.
    An example is Rita Mae Brown’s “High Hearts”, which is furnished with a glossary and a bibliography. Perfect.
    🙂

    Reply
  8. I agree very strongly with the comments above.
    If an author cannot be bothered to get the details of an historical setting right, she should not be using such a setting: she should be telling her story within a contemporary setting, or a completely fantasy one. The past is NOT FANTASY; it really happened. History matters, and misleading the reader is unacceptable.
    There are writers, such as the great Heyer, who wore their learning lightly, and that’s fine, but what I really like is a good historical novel with some references at the end that will enable the reader, should she so wish, to follow the author’s research path.
    An example is Rita Mae Brown’s “High Hearts”, which is furnished with a glossary and a bibliography. Perfect.
    🙂

    Reply
  9. I agree very strongly with the comments above.
    If an author cannot be bothered to get the details of an historical setting right, she should not be using such a setting: she should be telling her story within a contemporary setting, or a completely fantasy one. The past is NOT FANTASY; it really happened. History matters, and misleading the reader is unacceptable.
    There are writers, such as the great Heyer, who wore their learning lightly, and that’s fine, but what I really like is a good historical novel with some references at the end that will enable the reader, should she so wish, to follow the author’s research path.
    An example is Rita Mae Brown’s “High Hearts”, which is furnished with a glossary and a bibliography. Perfect.
    🙂

    Reply
  10. I’m on the purist side too. What I hate the most in historical lite books is when they have dialogue more suited to the “OC” than to the time period. If I want to read about 21st century hero and heroines, I’ll read a contemporary.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  11. I’m on the purist side too. What I hate the most in historical lite books is when they have dialogue more suited to the “OC” than to the time period. If I want to read about 21st century hero and heroines, I’ll read a contemporary.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  12. I’m on the purist side too. What I hate the most in historical lite books is when they have dialogue more suited to the “OC” than to the time period. If I want to read about 21st century hero and heroines, I’ll read a contemporary.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  13. I guess as a general observation, the major stuff have better be accurate, but the small stuff doesn’t bother me. I’m still really only learning about the history behind Regency and all, so I probably don’t even notice a fair amount. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  14. I guess as a general observation, the major stuff have better be accurate, but the small stuff doesn’t bother me. I’m still really only learning about the history behind Regency and all, so I probably don’t even notice a fair amount. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  15. I guess as a general observation, the major stuff have better be accurate, but the small stuff doesn’t bother me. I’m still really only learning about the history behind Regency and all, so I probably don’t even notice a fair amount. 🙂
    Lois

    Reply
  16. I think there is no excuse whatsoever for major chronological errors and anachronisms. Small mistakes are a different matter: nobody is perfect. Where an author has deliberately tweaked historical fact a little, that may also be acceptable if it has been done for a very good reason (e.g. adding an imaginary, non-existent sibling to a known historical family), and provided there is a note in the book clearly drawing attention to it.
    The issue of how to convey the different mind-sets of other cultures is a far more complex and difficult one. It is extremely challenging – probably impossible – to overcome our own cultural conditioning so completely that we can write from within the head of a 17th-century emigrant from Europe to North America, let alone a medieval or ancient Egyptian aristocrat or peasant. And if we COULD achieve that feat, the result would probably seem baffling (and perhaps irritating) to a high percentage of readers. Some compromises must be made, but they must never be compromises that offend the deepest principles of the period in which the story is set.
    Language itself is a huge problem where it is some form of English. To write dialogue completely in 17th-century prose would be hard going for many readers, so, again, even recent periods must be compromised. Most authors choose to use some reasonably familiar archaic forms to give a flavour of the period. What is absolutely wrong is to use any kind of modern colloquialism, since that will ruin the atmosphere completely (as do Americanisms in the mouths of British characters of any period).
    Really, I admire any writer who has the courage to tackle the task at all – it is such a scary one!

    Reply
  17. I think there is no excuse whatsoever for major chronological errors and anachronisms. Small mistakes are a different matter: nobody is perfect. Where an author has deliberately tweaked historical fact a little, that may also be acceptable if it has been done for a very good reason (e.g. adding an imaginary, non-existent sibling to a known historical family), and provided there is a note in the book clearly drawing attention to it.
    The issue of how to convey the different mind-sets of other cultures is a far more complex and difficult one. It is extremely challenging – probably impossible – to overcome our own cultural conditioning so completely that we can write from within the head of a 17th-century emigrant from Europe to North America, let alone a medieval or ancient Egyptian aristocrat or peasant. And if we COULD achieve that feat, the result would probably seem baffling (and perhaps irritating) to a high percentage of readers. Some compromises must be made, but they must never be compromises that offend the deepest principles of the period in which the story is set.
    Language itself is a huge problem where it is some form of English. To write dialogue completely in 17th-century prose would be hard going for many readers, so, again, even recent periods must be compromised. Most authors choose to use some reasonably familiar archaic forms to give a flavour of the period. What is absolutely wrong is to use any kind of modern colloquialism, since that will ruin the atmosphere completely (as do Americanisms in the mouths of British characters of any period).
    Really, I admire any writer who has the courage to tackle the task at all – it is such a scary one!

    Reply
  18. I think there is no excuse whatsoever for major chronological errors and anachronisms. Small mistakes are a different matter: nobody is perfect. Where an author has deliberately tweaked historical fact a little, that may also be acceptable if it has been done for a very good reason (e.g. adding an imaginary, non-existent sibling to a known historical family), and provided there is a note in the book clearly drawing attention to it.
    The issue of how to convey the different mind-sets of other cultures is a far more complex and difficult one. It is extremely challenging – probably impossible – to overcome our own cultural conditioning so completely that we can write from within the head of a 17th-century emigrant from Europe to North America, let alone a medieval or ancient Egyptian aristocrat or peasant. And if we COULD achieve that feat, the result would probably seem baffling (and perhaps irritating) to a high percentage of readers. Some compromises must be made, but they must never be compromises that offend the deepest principles of the period in which the story is set.
    Language itself is a huge problem where it is some form of English. To write dialogue completely in 17th-century prose would be hard going for many readers, so, again, even recent periods must be compromised. Most authors choose to use some reasonably familiar archaic forms to give a flavour of the period. What is absolutely wrong is to use any kind of modern colloquialism, since that will ruin the atmosphere completely (as do Americanisms in the mouths of British characters of any period).
    Really, I admire any writer who has the courage to tackle the task at all – it is such a scary one!

    Reply
  19. Can I sit the fence? With a caveat? There’s a difference between perception of historical accuracy and actual historical accurancy. I’ve had people rant on and on about ‘inaccuracy’ that was actually quite accurate. So I don’t know that even the historical purists are qualified to say if they’re getting what they want. Unless they majored in the social history of the period. I dig afterwords too – it’s nice to see the choices made along the way.
    If the story is good enough it will drive past most errors. It’s only when the story stops carrying you along that things jump out and annoy you. (Frankly, I wish those publishers would save paper on all that sex they say I want and give it back to the tale, but that’s just me.)
    Flaws are a given in fiction. No matter how hard you try you’ll get something wrong. There’s a new series set in Palm Beach that has a scene that could not possibly happen on I-95 but certainly could on the Turnpike. She did her research, she just mixed up her roads. Who would know that but a Palm Beacher?

    Reply
  20. Can I sit the fence? With a caveat? There’s a difference between perception of historical accuracy and actual historical accurancy. I’ve had people rant on and on about ‘inaccuracy’ that was actually quite accurate. So I don’t know that even the historical purists are qualified to say if they’re getting what they want. Unless they majored in the social history of the period. I dig afterwords too – it’s nice to see the choices made along the way.
    If the story is good enough it will drive past most errors. It’s only when the story stops carrying you along that things jump out and annoy you. (Frankly, I wish those publishers would save paper on all that sex they say I want and give it back to the tale, but that’s just me.)
    Flaws are a given in fiction. No matter how hard you try you’ll get something wrong. There’s a new series set in Palm Beach that has a scene that could not possibly happen on I-95 but certainly could on the Turnpike. She did her research, she just mixed up her roads. Who would know that but a Palm Beacher?

    Reply
  21. Can I sit the fence? With a caveat? There’s a difference between perception of historical accuracy and actual historical accurancy. I’ve had people rant on and on about ‘inaccuracy’ that was actually quite accurate. So I don’t know that even the historical purists are qualified to say if they’re getting what they want. Unless they majored in the social history of the period. I dig afterwords too – it’s nice to see the choices made along the way.
    If the story is good enough it will drive past most errors. It’s only when the story stops carrying you along that things jump out and annoy you. (Frankly, I wish those publishers would save paper on all that sex they say I want and give it back to the tale, but that’s just me.)
    Flaws are a given in fiction. No matter how hard you try you’ll get something wrong. There’s a new series set in Palm Beach that has a scene that could not possibly happen on I-95 but certainly could on the Turnpike. She did her research, she just mixed up her roads. Who would know that but a Palm Beacher?

    Reply
  22. Yet another thought-provoking post from Susan/Miranda. Hmm, how does she do it, I wonder?
    That said, I must say I’m with Liz. It is amazing to me how many people get exercised about something they believe is a historical inaccuracy, when I’ve got reams of research indicating otherwise. Writing fiction, especially romance fiction, we’re always walking a fine line, trying not to commit absurdities and anachronism, yet also trying not to write the stuff readers will skip over. Or things that will gross them out and kill the romance. So I’m aware that every author walks that tightrope his/her own way. Still, because I do research carefully, I expect at least some effort on the author’s part. Blatant anachronisms and too-contemporary language will make me stop reading a book. I feel as though the author didn’t take enough trouble for me, underestimates my intelligence–in other words, it’s a little insulting. But again, being an author I know it’s impossible to get every single thing right–not to mention battles with the occasional copy editor who will change something right to something wrong. We lowly authors do not always get the last word. So, I do try to keep this in mind and try not to be completely intolerant. It also helps to remember that Shakespeare rewrote history to serve his purpose. I guess it boils down to: Don’t break my suspension of disbelief–and that has a lot to do with the writer’s skill rather than research.

    Reply
  23. Yet another thought-provoking post from Susan/Miranda. Hmm, how does she do it, I wonder?
    That said, I must say I’m with Liz. It is amazing to me how many people get exercised about something they believe is a historical inaccuracy, when I’ve got reams of research indicating otherwise. Writing fiction, especially romance fiction, we’re always walking a fine line, trying not to commit absurdities and anachronism, yet also trying not to write the stuff readers will skip over. Or things that will gross them out and kill the romance. So I’m aware that every author walks that tightrope his/her own way. Still, because I do research carefully, I expect at least some effort on the author’s part. Blatant anachronisms and too-contemporary language will make me stop reading a book. I feel as though the author didn’t take enough trouble for me, underestimates my intelligence–in other words, it’s a little insulting. But again, being an author I know it’s impossible to get every single thing right–not to mention battles with the occasional copy editor who will change something right to something wrong. We lowly authors do not always get the last word. So, I do try to keep this in mind and try not to be completely intolerant. It also helps to remember that Shakespeare rewrote history to serve his purpose. I guess it boils down to: Don’t break my suspension of disbelief–and that has a lot to do with the writer’s skill rather than research.

    Reply
  24. Yet another thought-provoking post from Susan/Miranda. Hmm, how does she do it, I wonder?
    That said, I must say I’m with Liz. It is amazing to me how many people get exercised about something they believe is a historical inaccuracy, when I’ve got reams of research indicating otherwise. Writing fiction, especially romance fiction, we’re always walking a fine line, trying not to commit absurdities and anachronism, yet also trying not to write the stuff readers will skip over. Or things that will gross them out and kill the romance. So I’m aware that every author walks that tightrope his/her own way. Still, because I do research carefully, I expect at least some effort on the author’s part. Blatant anachronisms and too-contemporary language will make me stop reading a book. I feel as though the author didn’t take enough trouble for me, underestimates my intelligence–in other words, it’s a little insulting. But again, being an author I know it’s impossible to get every single thing right–not to mention battles with the occasional copy editor who will change something right to something wrong. We lowly authors do not always get the last word. So, I do try to keep this in mind and try not to be completely intolerant. It also helps to remember that Shakespeare rewrote history to serve his purpose. I guess it boils down to: Don’t break my suspension of disbelief–and that has a lot to do with the writer’s skill rather than research.

    Reply
  25. I think I am a fairly intelligent person; I have three degrees and more than half a century of broad reading interests. But I have read rants from readers about “wallbanging” errors that certainly never interfered with my enjoyment of the book being attacked. Some errors are egregious, of course, and these are inexcusable. But if a writer has created a compelling story with characters that capture my heart and mind, I am not bothered by “inaccuracies” that I don’t recognize as such. I am sure that I remain unaware of most of those errors in dress that Tonda deplores. 🙂
    On the other hand, grammatical errors and imprecise diction make me cringe, and I have been known to throw a few books when a author of a contemporary romance lets readers know the hero is Southern by having him say “y’all” at least once in every sentence. These errors fall in my areas of expertise, and I can rant with the most indignant about them. I don’t think my responses are unique. I think many readers complain vigorously when authors make errors in the readers’ particular fields of knowledge or in facts or general background that most readers know. I think many readers remain blissfully untroubled by the errors that so disturb those in the know.

    Reply
  26. I think I am a fairly intelligent person; I have three degrees and more than half a century of broad reading interests. But I have read rants from readers about “wallbanging” errors that certainly never interfered with my enjoyment of the book being attacked. Some errors are egregious, of course, and these are inexcusable. But if a writer has created a compelling story with characters that capture my heart and mind, I am not bothered by “inaccuracies” that I don’t recognize as such. I am sure that I remain unaware of most of those errors in dress that Tonda deplores. 🙂
    On the other hand, grammatical errors and imprecise diction make me cringe, and I have been known to throw a few books when a author of a contemporary romance lets readers know the hero is Southern by having him say “y’all” at least once in every sentence. These errors fall in my areas of expertise, and I can rant with the most indignant about them. I don’t think my responses are unique. I think many readers complain vigorously when authors make errors in the readers’ particular fields of knowledge or in facts or general background that most readers know. I think many readers remain blissfully untroubled by the errors that so disturb those in the know.

    Reply
  27. I think I am a fairly intelligent person; I have three degrees and more than half a century of broad reading interests. But I have read rants from readers about “wallbanging” errors that certainly never interfered with my enjoyment of the book being attacked. Some errors are egregious, of course, and these are inexcusable. But if a writer has created a compelling story with characters that capture my heart and mind, I am not bothered by “inaccuracies” that I don’t recognize as such. I am sure that I remain unaware of most of those errors in dress that Tonda deplores. 🙂
    On the other hand, grammatical errors and imprecise diction make me cringe, and I have been known to throw a few books when a author of a contemporary romance lets readers know the hero is Southern by having him say “y’all” at least once in every sentence. These errors fall in my areas of expertise, and I can rant with the most indignant about them. I don’t think my responses are unique. I think many readers complain vigorously when authors make errors in the readers’ particular fields of knowledge or in facts or general background that most readers know. I think many readers remain blissfully untroubled by the errors that so disturb those in the know.

    Reply
  28. A wealth of interesting comments here!
    As both reader and writer, I do feel like I’m somewhat on the fence. As Wylene and Tonda noted, if it’s a time period about which I know nothing, then I’m along for the ride, blissfully ignorant of whatever historical disasters may be taking place. I’d just trust the author to have done her job.
    And yet as a writer, I worry constantly about inadverntantly making goofs. I’ll spend a whole morning trying to find out how the window should be opening at a particular time (sash? casement? a n old sack tacked over the opening?), then rewrite the scene and it won’t matter anyway.
    But as Liz says, there’s accurate and accurate. No one can get everything right, unless they’re several hundred years old with a really good memory. Everything historical is filtered through your own time. All you have to do is look at historical fiction of the past: Sir Walter Scott’s early Scotland seemed the height of authenticity to Victorian readers, but most modern readers see the Victorian sensibilites glaring through the tartan. And “Gone with the Wind” today says as much about the 1920s South as it did about the 1860s.
    Ignorance may not be exactly bliss, but sometimes it does make it easier to read just for fun. 🙂

    Reply
  29. A wealth of interesting comments here!
    As both reader and writer, I do feel like I’m somewhat on the fence. As Wylene and Tonda noted, if it’s a time period about which I know nothing, then I’m along for the ride, blissfully ignorant of whatever historical disasters may be taking place. I’d just trust the author to have done her job.
    And yet as a writer, I worry constantly about inadverntantly making goofs. I’ll spend a whole morning trying to find out how the window should be opening at a particular time (sash? casement? a n old sack tacked over the opening?), then rewrite the scene and it won’t matter anyway.
    But as Liz says, there’s accurate and accurate. No one can get everything right, unless they’re several hundred years old with a really good memory. Everything historical is filtered through your own time. All you have to do is look at historical fiction of the past: Sir Walter Scott’s early Scotland seemed the height of authenticity to Victorian readers, but most modern readers see the Victorian sensibilites glaring through the tartan. And “Gone with the Wind” today says as much about the 1920s South as it did about the 1860s.
    Ignorance may not be exactly bliss, but sometimes it does make it easier to read just for fun. 🙂

    Reply
  30. A wealth of interesting comments here!
    As both reader and writer, I do feel like I’m somewhat on the fence. As Wylene and Tonda noted, if it’s a time period about which I know nothing, then I’m along for the ride, blissfully ignorant of whatever historical disasters may be taking place. I’d just trust the author to have done her job.
    And yet as a writer, I worry constantly about inadverntantly making goofs. I’ll spend a whole morning trying to find out how the window should be opening at a particular time (sash? casement? a n old sack tacked over the opening?), then rewrite the scene and it won’t matter anyway.
    But as Liz says, there’s accurate and accurate. No one can get everything right, unless they’re several hundred years old with a really good memory. Everything historical is filtered through your own time. All you have to do is look at historical fiction of the past: Sir Walter Scott’s early Scotland seemed the height of authenticity to Victorian readers, but most modern readers see the Victorian sensibilites glaring through the tartan. And “Gone with the Wind” today says as much about the 1920s South as it did about the 1860s.
    Ignorance may not be exactly bliss, but sometimes it does make it easier to read just for fun. 🙂

    Reply
  31. Hi Susan/Miranda:
    I too am a bit new to historical romance. I come from a SF/Fantasy/Paranormal background. It’s what I write as well.
    If I had my druthers in historical romance, I wish writers would explain it more. Just a few words. I don’t need much. I didn’t know what a Viscount was or what it meant to be one until I read MJ’s THE CHINA BRIDE. About 10 pages past the prologue, I went to dictionary.com so I could get some bearings round the lordly title. This goes along with bum rolls, whiples and trues. Of course, I don’t mind admitting I don’t know these things and tend to seek the answers on my own so that I can get a true 3D of the story. Others may not. Others may just find themselves frustrated by page 10, put it down and spend their money elsewhere. After all, just how educated is the general female population about history, historical customs, titles, how they all relate and why?
    I do think a level of accuracy is important. Please do not put flush toilets in medieval castle (I read a book that did) or electric lights in Napoleon’s tent.
    Dialogue is also very important. IMHO, characters should not use 20th century swear words. This is a real sticking point with me.
    Here is a non-creative thought. I’m not sure it belongs on WW’s but use if for what it’s worth. The new twenty-something readers that are just coming into their own along with their older thirty-something cousins… how much do they know about history? Could it be that… now this is opinion only… as the historically savvy sophisticated women die away, (thus purchasing less books) we are not wetting the appetites of the younger with enough explanation of assumed historical facts to keep them buying and reading? As I said… this is just a thought.
    Nina

    Reply
  32. Hi Susan/Miranda:
    I too am a bit new to historical romance. I come from a SF/Fantasy/Paranormal background. It’s what I write as well.
    If I had my druthers in historical romance, I wish writers would explain it more. Just a few words. I don’t need much. I didn’t know what a Viscount was or what it meant to be one until I read MJ’s THE CHINA BRIDE. About 10 pages past the prologue, I went to dictionary.com so I could get some bearings round the lordly title. This goes along with bum rolls, whiples and trues. Of course, I don’t mind admitting I don’t know these things and tend to seek the answers on my own so that I can get a true 3D of the story. Others may not. Others may just find themselves frustrated by page 10, put it down and spend their money elsewhere. After all, just how educated is the general female population about history, historical customs, titles, how they all relate and why?
    I do think a level of accuracy is important. Please do not put flush toilets in medieval castle (I read a book that did) or electric lights in Napoleon’s tent.
    Dialogue is also very important. IMHO, characters should not use 20th century swear words. This is a real sticking point with me.
    Here is a non-creative thought. I’m not sure it belongs on WW’s but use if for what it’s worth. The new twenty-something readers that are just coming into their own along with their older thirty-something cousins… how much do they know about history? Could it be that… now this is opinion only… as the historically savvy sophisticated women die away, (thus purchasing less books) we are not wetting the appetites of the younger with enough explanation of assumed historical facts to keep them buying and reading? As I said… this is just a thought.
    Nina

    Reply
  33. Hi Susan/Miranda:
    I too am a bit new to historical romance. I come from a SF/Fantasy/Paranormal background. It’s what I write as well.
    If I had my druthers in historical romance, I wish writers would explain it more. Just a few words. I don’t need much. I didn’t know what a Viscount was or what it meant to be one until I read MJ’s THE CHINA BRIDE. About 10 pages past the prologue, I went to dictionary.com so I could get some bearings round the lordly title. This goes along with bum rolls, whiples and trues. Of course, I don’t mind admitting I don’t know these things and tend to seek the answers on my own so that I can get a true 3D of the story. Others may not. Others may just find themselves frustrated by page 10, put it down and spend their money elsewhere. After all, just how educated is the general female population about history, historical customs, titles, how they all relate and why?
    I do think a level of accuracy is important. Please do not put flush toilets in medieval castle (I read a book that did) or electric lights in Napoleon’s tent.
    Dialogue is also very important. IMHO, characters should not use 20th century swear words. This is a real sticking point with me.
    Here is a non-creative thought. I’m not sure it belongs on WW’s but use if for what it’s worth. The new twenty-something readers that are just coming into their own along with their older thirty-something cousins… how much do they know about history? Could it be that… now this is opinion only… as the historically savvy sophisticated women die away, (thus purchasing less books) we are not wetting the appetites of the younger with enough explanation of assumed historical facts to keep them buying and reading? As I said… this is just a thought.
    Nina

    Reply
  34. I like to learn a little from my books. I expect the general backdrop and any major occurances to be accurate. I assume they are unless the writer says otherwise. But minor things don’t bother me, like using a revolver a few years early, or maybe someone especially witty did think about a bad hair/heir day long before it became widely used. Language anachronisms don’t bother me. I don’t carry an OED around in my head so haven’t a clue when certain words came into use. I’m a modern reader and prefer being able to understand what is being said rather than keeping a dictionary by my side for constant reference.

    Reply
  35. I like to learn a little from my books. I expect the general backdrop and any major occurances to be accurate. I assume they are unless the writer says otherwise. But minor things don’t bother me, like using a revolver a few years early, or maybe someone especially witty did think about a bad hair/heir day long before it became widely used. Language anachronisms don’t bother me. I don’t carry an OED around in my head so haven’t a clue when certain words came into use. I’m a modern reader and prefer being able to understand what is being said rather than keeping a dictionary by my side for constant reference.

    Reply
  36. I like to learn a little from my books. I expect the general backdrop and any major occurances to be accurate. I assume they are unless the writer says otherwise. But minor things don’t bother me, like using a revolver a few years early, or maybe someone especially witty did think about a bad hair/heir day long before it became widely used. Language anachronisms don’t bother me. I don’t carry an OED around in my head so haven’t a clue when certain words came into use. I’m a modern reader and prefer being able to understand what is being said rather than keeping a dictionary by my side for constant reference.

    Reply
  37. this is a subject close to my heart and the commentary is priceless. Since I came unprepared to the blog today, I’m going to blatantly steal the topic and post my comments. There’s so much in here, that I’m not certain I can rein in all my responses!

    Reply
  38. this is a subject close to my heart and the commentary is priceless. Since I came unprepared to the blog today, I’m going to blatantly steal the topic and post my comments. There’s so much in here, that I’m not certain I can rein in all my responses!

    Reply
  39. this is a subject close to my heart and the commentary is priceless. Since I came unprepared to the blog today, I’m going to blatantly steal the topic and post my comments. There’s so much in here, that I’m not certain I can rein in all my responses!

    Reply
  40. I think there’s a need for balance. One does want one’s characters to be sympathetic which means they need to have certain modern attitudes (appropriately dressed up in historic context). And we neither know, not probably wish to hear, exactly how people spoke in the past. But obviously anachronistic words really bother me and they’re not that hard to avoid. I just read a Regency by a major bestselling author and the first chapter contained the word “patio.” Being a Brit, I was fairly sure that was an Americanism and probably a recent one. Webster’s (not even OED) said 1820s-30s, American. I was surprised it was so old but really I was disgusted by the fact that this bestselling author couldn’t even bother to check. After that I spotted several other howlers and it spoiled the book for me.

    Reply
  41. I think there’s a need for balance. One does want one’s characters to be sympathetic which means they need to have certain modern attitudes (appropriately dressed up in historic context). And we neither know, not probably wish to hear, exactly how people spoke in the past. But obviously anachronistic words really bother me and they’re not that hard to avoid. I just read a Regency by a major bestselling author and the first chapter contained the word “patio.” Being a Brit, I was fairly sure that was an Americanism and probably a recent one. Webster’s (not even OED) said 1820s-30s, American. I was surprised it was so old but really I was disgusted by the fact that this bestselling author couldn’t even bother to check. After that I spotted several other howlers and it spoiled the book for me.

    Reply
  42. I think there’s a need for balance. One does want one’s characters to be sympathetic which means they need to have certain modern attitudes (appropriately dressed up in historic context). And we neither know, not probably wish to hear, exactly how people spoke in the past. But obviously anachronistic words really bother me and they’re not that hard to avoid. I just read a Regency by a major bestselling author and the first chapter contained the word “patio.” Being a Brit, I was fairly sure that was an Americanism and probably a recent one. Webster’s (not even OED) said 1820s-30s, American. I was surprised it was so old but really I was disgusted by the fact that this bestselling author couldn’t even bother to check. After that I spotted several other howlers and it spoiled the book for me.

    Reply
  43. I don’t buy the “paper costs too much” excuse. Check out this letter to the editor I read at SciFi Weekly on scifi.com. http://www.scifi.com/sfw/letters/index.php?show=10&page=34
    “November 21, 2005
    Paper Books Are Sacred Things
    In response to “Paper Has Become Too Precious,” baloney. Too precious for whom? E-towels aren’t cleaning up spills and messes around the house. E-bags aren’t containing the dirt sucked up by the average vacuum cleaner. You don’t download e-paper for toilet tissue. So don’t preach that a book is expendable. To those of us who inhabit spaces on the planet that are not “grid-dependent,” a book is a sacred thing. . .
    Marie Cooley”

    Reply
  44. I don’t buy the “paper costs too much” excuse. Check out this letter to the editor I read at SciFi Weekly on scifi.com. http://www.scifi.com/sfw/letters/index.php?show=10&page=34
    “November 21, 2005
    Paper Books Are Sacred Things
    In response to “Paper Has Become Too Precious,” baloney. Too precious for whom? E-towels aren’t cleaning up spills and messes around the house. E-bags aren’t containing the dirt sucked up by the average vacuum cleaner. You don’t download e-paper for toilet tissue. So don’t preach that a book is expendable. To those of us who inhabit spaces on the planet that are not “grid-dependent,” a book is a sacred thing. . .
    Marie Cooley”

    Reply
  45. I don’t buy the “paper costs too much” excuse. Check out this letter to the editor I read at SciFi Weekly on scifi.com. http://www.scifi.com/sfw/letters/index.php?show=10&page=34
    “November 21, 2005
    Paper Books Are Sacred Things
    In response to “Paper Has Become Too Precious,” baloney. Too precious for whom? E-towels aren’t cleaning up spills and messes around the house. E-bags aren’t containing the dirt sucked up by the average vacuum cleaner. You don’t download e-paper for toilet tissue. So don’t preach that a book is expendable. To those of us who inhabit spaces on the planet that are not “grid-dependent,” a book is a sacred thing. . .
    Marie Cooley”

    Reply
  46. Tell me, people, would it enhance your enjoyment of a historical romance set in ancient Egypt if you knew that a favored contraceptive of the day was crocodile dung?

    Reply
  47. Tell me, people, would it enhance your enjoyment of a historical romance set in ancient Egypt if you knew that a favored contraceptive of the day was crocodile dung?

    Reply
  48. Tell me, people, would it enhance your enjoyment of a historical romance set in ancient Egypt if you knew that a favored contraceptive of the day was crocodile dung?

    Reply
  49. “Tell me, people, would it enhance your enjoyment of a historical romance set in ancient Egypt if you knew that a favored contraceptive of the day was crocodile dung?”
    I don’t know if it would necessarily enhance my enjoyment of the romance, Tal, but if it was relevant to the scene and pertinent to the story, I don’t suppose I’d have a problem with it.
    But just because they did use croc dung doesn’t automatically mean it needs to be (or not) in the scene. Just knowing the character used a contraceptive is probably good enough for me, unless there is a vital reason for the reader to know about the croc dung.
    I feel my job as a writer is to sweep the reader along with a good story, not imitate reality TV or shock radio, or use it as a means of getting on a soapbox or displaying my wealth of knowledge.
    Dorothy Dunnett’s books are filled with piles of exhaustive historical detail, but it is relevant to the stories and moves the plot forward, while being entertaining and fascinating to boot.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  50. “Tell me, people, would it enhance your enjoyment of a historical romance set in ancient Egypt if you knew that a favored contraceptive of the day was crocodile dung?”
    I don’t know if it would necessarily enhance my enjoyment of the romance, Tal, but if it was relevant to the scene and pertinent to the story, I don’t suppose I’d have a problem with it.
    But just because they did use croc dung doesn’t automatically mean it needs to be (or not) in the scene. Just knowing the character used a contraceptive is probably good enough for me, unless there is a vital reason for the reader to know about the croc dung.
    I feel my job as a writer is to sweep the reader along with a good story, not imitate reality TV or shock radio, or use it as a means of getting on a soapbox or displaying my wealth of knowledge.
    Dorothy Dunnett’s books are filled with piles of exhaustive historical detail, but it is relevant to the stories and moves the plot forward, while being entertaining and fascinating to boot.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  51. “Tell me, people, would it enhance your enjoyment of a historical romance set in ancient Egypt if you knew that a favored contraceptive of the day was crocodile dung?”
    I don’t know if it would necessarily enhance my enjoyment of the romance, Tal, but if it was relevant to the scene and pertinent to the story, I don’t suppose I’d have a problem with it.
    But just because they did use croc dung doesn’t automatically mean it needs to be (or not) in the scene. Just knowing the character used a contraceptive is probably good enough for me, unless there is a vital reason for the reader to know about the croc dung.
    I feel my job as a writer is to sweep the reader along with a good story, not imitate reality TV or shock radio, or use it as a means of getting on a soapbox or displaying my wealth of knowledge.
    Dorothy Dunnett’s books are filled with piles of exhaustive historical detail, but it is relevant to the stories and moves the plot forward, while being entertaining and fascinating to boot.
    Sherrie

    Reply
  52. “Publishers say that readers want faster reads, more love scenes, less history…”
    I’d like to email the publishers and let them know that this long time historical reader totally disagrees with them! It’s this kind of thinking that is forcing me to buy fewer historicals.
    “How much history is too little, too much, or just right?”
    I realize that historicals are fiction, therefore not 100% factual. I am willing to suspend disbelief up to a point. I get frustrated when authors make glaring mistakes – plastic birds on a Regency hat, for instance! I treasure the historicals that transport me to another place and time, with great characters and plot. But no matter how great the characters are and no matter how deftly the plot has been woven, if the dialog and tone feel too 21st C. I’ll promptly place the book in my Toss Pile and cross the author off my list.
    “Are you one of those heading off in dismay to Phillipa Gregory and your library of old favorites…”
    Yes! I find that I’m drawn to historicals published before 1990. But I still rush out to the book stores on Tuesdays when I know one of the Word Wenches has a new book out. 🙂
    Since animal excrement and its uses have been mentioned … During the last year I read “The Jeweled Serpent” by Julia Fitzgerald that was orginally published in 1984. The heroine, who is trekking across the desert in what is now the Middle East, drinks and baths in camel urine. Who knew you could drink and bath in camel urine?! I found it fascinating. I love learing bits of information like this. I can’t image the heroine in a new historical going anywhere near a camel much less actually drinking camel urine. “TJS” made an indelible impression on me. I honestly wish half of the new historicals were as memorable as “TJS.”
    To read more about camel urine and milk click on the link below:
    http://www.islam-qa.com/index.php?QR=83423&ln=eng

    Reply
  53. “Publishers say that readers want faster reads, more love scenes, less history…”
    I’d like to email the publishers and let them know that this long time historical reader totally disagrees with them! It’s this kind of thinking that is forcing me to buy fewer historicals.
    “How much history is too little, too much, or just right?”
    I realize that historicals are fiction, therefore not 100% factual. I am willing to suspend disbelief up to a point. I get frustrated when authors make glaring mistakes – plastic birds on a Regency hat, for instance! I treasure the historicals that transport me to another place and time, with great characters and plot. But no matter how great the characters are and no matter how deftly the plot has been woven, if the dialog and tone feel too 21st C. I’ll promptly place the book in my Toss Pile and cross the author off my list.
    “Are you one of those heading off in dismay to Phillipa Gregory and your library of old favorites…”
    Yes! I find that I’m drawn to historicals published before 1990. But I still rush out to the book stores on Tuesdays when I know one of the Word Wenches has a new book out. 🙂
    Since animal excrement and its uses have been mentioned … During the last year I read “The Jeweled Serpent” by Julia Fitzgerald that was orginally published in 1984. The heroine, who is trekking across the desert in what is now the Middle East, drinks and baths in camel urine. Who knew you could drink and bath in camel urine?! I found it fascinating. I love learing bits of information like this. I can’t image the heroine in a new historical going anywhere near a camel much less actually drinking camel urine. “TJS” made an indelible impression on me. I honestly wish half of the new historicals were as memorable as “TJS.”
    To read more about camel urine and milk click on the link below:
    http://www.islam-qa.com/index.php?QR=83423&ln=eng

    Reply
  54. “Publishers say that readers want faster reads, more love scenes, less history…”
    I’d like to email the publishers and let them know that this long time historical reader totally disagrees with them! It’s this kind of thinking that is forcing me to buy fewer historicals.
    “How much history is too little, too much, or just right?”
    I realize that historicals are fiction, therefore not 100% factual. I am willing to suspend disbelief up to a point. I get frustrated when authors make glaring mistakes – plastic birds on a Regency hat, for instance! I treasure the historicals that transport me to another place and time, with great characters and plot. But no matter how great the characters are and no matter how deftly the plot has been woven, if the dialog and tone feel too 21st C. I’ll promptly place the book in my Toss Pile and cross the author off my list.
    “Are you one of those heading off in dismay to Phillipa Gregory and your library of old favorites…”
    Yes! I find that I’m drawn to historicals published before 1990. But I still rush out to the book stores on Tuesdays when I know one of the Word Wenches has a new book out. 🙂
    Since animal excrement and its uses have been mentioned … During the last year I read “The Jeweled Serpent” by Julia Fitzgerald that was orginally published in 1984. The heroine, who is trekking across the desert in what is now the Middle East, drinks and baths in camel urine. Who knew you could drink and bath in camel urine?! I found it fascinating. I love learing bits of information like this. I can’t image the heroine in a new historical going anywhere near a camel much less actually drinking camel urine. “TJS” made an indelible impression on me. I honestly wish half of the new historicals were as memorable as “TJS.”
    To read more about camel urine and milk click on the link below:
    http://www.islam-qa.com/index.php?QR=83423&ln=eng

    Reply
  55. I posted to this thread last night/early this morning and my reply has since disappeared.
    Did I offend someone? I would appreciate it if the moderator/admin. would email and let me know if that is the case.

    Reply
  56. I posted to this thread last night/early this morning and my reply has since disappeared.
    Did I offend someone? I would appreciate it if the moderator/admin. would email and let me know if that is the case.

    Reply
  57. I posted to this thread last night/early this morning and my reply has since disappeared.
    Did I offend someone? I would appreciate it if the moderator/admin. would email and let me know if that is the case.

    Reply
  58. Steffany, I just saw your message that your earlier post had disappeared. I checked, and it was showing in my comments archives, but for some reason it had disappeared from the comments page. I reposted it for you, and it has now reappeared like magic.
    I have no idea what happened, but if this occurs again, please e-mail me privately at sholmes@holmesedit.com and let me know. Apologies for the speed bump. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen again!
    Sherrie
    http://www.holmesedit.com

    Reply
  59. Steffany, I just saw your message that your earlier post had disappeared. I checked, and it was showing in my comments archives, but for some reason it had disappeared from the comments page. I reposted it for you, and it has now reappeared like magic.
    I have no idea what happened, but if this occurs again, please e-mail me privately at sholmes@holmesedit.com and let me know. Apologies for the speed bump. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen again!
    Sherrie
    http://www.holmesedit.com

    Reply
  60. Steffany, I just saw your message that your earlier post had disappeared. I checked, and it was showing in my comments archives, but for some reason it had disappeared from the comments page. I reposted it for you, and it has now reappeared like magic.
    I have no idea what happened, but if this occurs again, please e-mail me privately at sholmes@holmesedit.com and let me know. Apologies for the speed bump. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen again!
    Sherrie
    http://www.holmesedit.com

    Reply

Leave a Comment